Matchpreview: Santosh Trophy; Battle of heavyweights as Bengal, Kerala clash in final
Kolkata, March 31: Defending champions Bengal and Kerala will look to end a remarkable campaign by winning the title when they clash in the final of the 72nd edition of the national football championship for Santosh Trophy at the Vivekananda Yubabharati Krirangan here on Sunday.
Both the outfits, traditional powerhouses in the country, are two of the most successful teams in the history of the competition, with Bengal winning the crown on 32 occasions and Kerala bagging the trophy five times.
Bengal eased Karnataka in a nervy semifinal encounter as two of the veterans in the side Jiten Murmu and Tirthankar Sarkar scored for Bengal to set-up a meeting with Kerala after they beat Mizoram 1-0 in their semifinal.
Kerala have emerged the overwhelming favourites at the tournament thus far, but face their biggest test yet in a Bengal team that knows all about them, having faced the Southern outfit earlier in a redundant Group A game.
Kerala managed a 1-0 win in the meeting at Mohun Bagan Ground but Bengal coach Ranjan Chowdhury feels the final clash is a different game altogether.
Bengal, who will carry the advantage of being the home side, have built their success around a solid defence that has only conceded two goals so far in the tournament, while they have relied heavily on the star quality of Jiten Murmu at the other end.
“There is absolutely no pressure on the team. The team has confidence in it’s ability to win the final against Kerala,” said Chowdhury on the eve of the match.
Speaking about the opponents he said, “Kerala is a very strong and organized team. They are very strong defensively and got many talented players. Whoever wins tomorrow needs to earn the trophy by playing well.”
Nearly half of the Bengal squad are playing their first Santosh Trophy, with many of them in their early 20s and there are only four survivors from the team that won the title under Mridul Banerjee last year == Ankit Mukherjee, Ranajit Majumder, Sourav Das Gupta and Manotosh Chakladar.
Kerala have not won the trophy since 2005 and lost on penalties to Services in the final five years ago at home in Kochi.
Satheevan Balan’s charges have seemed like a side on a mission to end their title drought and have been a joy to catch in the tournament with excellent team work display.
The Southern outfit are quick off the blocks on both flanks with a solid midfield marshalled by Seesan S and Jithin Gopalan. The strike pair of Afdal VK and Anurag PC can tear apart any defense on their day.
“I am very happy with the progress of my team, which has shown great improvement match after match. We have a great deal of respect for Bengal but I know my players are capable of winning the title.” Satheevan Balan said.
For many a fan, Kerala is the favourite to win the ultimate at the ten-team tournament, but Satheevan Balan not reday to give ear to that assertion insisting Bengal have an equal chance of being crowned champions.
“We are not favourites. Since we arrived here, we take every game as a final and against Bengal will be same. We will put in our best to make sure we win. We have an idea of the Bengal team having played them earlier in the tournament but we are talking of the final and surely it will be different,” he added.
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